An Excellent Day for an Exorcism

The Exorcist’s timing, released immediately after Christmas in 1973, makes it unique among horror films, selling not the general horror but rather the plausibility – and immediately after one of the most religious of all holidays.

In the 1970s, while institutionalized Christianity wavered, belief systems didn’t, at least not on any notable scale; that came later. The Exorcist plays like a dramatic, arguably even desperate attempt to ground religious beliefs in science. When that fails, with only one possibility as to Regan’s (Linda Blair) violent outbursts left, anchors The Exorcist the way few (if any) possession films have done since.

To this day, nothing pulled this off better than The Exorcist

It’s a bold ask – audiences were meant to accept a head-spinning, pea-green vomit-spewing child was actually taken over by a demonic force. Partly, that works because of the marvelously eerie Linda Blair, but it’s primarily the script. Father Karras (Jason Miller) serves the church from a place of medical science, drawn into the unexplained to a point where no educated knowledge can explain the events. That’s what makes The Exorcist terrifying. With every hospitalization, test, and psychiatrist exhausted, the demon becomes wholly real.

Genre films often approach this topic from a place of belief; it’s assumed because trailers mentioned possession, there’s no need for doubt. Reality, especially given the intended tone, style, and plot devices, service the horror, rather than the horror directing the aesthetic. To this day, nothing pulled this off better than The Exorcist.

There’s a technical mastery too, easily missed or understated amid the iconic spider walk or levitating bodies. William Friedkin and Oscar-winning cinematographer Owen Roizman build a convincingly quiet, dreary, documentarian-like form. Effects happen organically, whether that’s invisible age makeup on Max von Sydow or an act of horrific violence (Regan stabbing herself with a cross), the camera doesn’t reveal anything other than reality, swaying and bobbing along with erratic, terrifying edits representing a behind-the-scenes crew trying to suppress their own survival instincts. The Exorcist never provides a moment of true safety once Regan becomes a victim.

Credit as well to the performances. Linda Blair draws the attention, deservedly so, but Ellen Burstyn as her mother garnered an Oscar nomination (losing to Glenda Jackson). Her desperation as a beloved actress in the public eye (and even embarrassment as she tries to isolate herself so no one knows she’s seeking religious solutions) becomes a remarkable role, and another touch The Exorcist uses to draw in non-believers. It works. All of it.


Opening scenes in Iraq impress with their color replication, especially vibrancy. However, this comes with a cost, notably chroma noise, the sky making this issue most prominent. Luckily, this isn’t a constant issue, reserved for a handful of scenes, letting Warner’s Exorcist remaster breathe from the expanded resolution. Detail thrives from less-than-sharp cinematography, resolving tiny details as they appear. Facial definition in close does look astonishingly refined, some filtering suggested in spots.

HDR breathes stupendous life into the material, bold, intense, and naturally amplified. Whether that’s the iconic foggy streetlight or daylight dropping onto the characters, brightness makes clear gains over the Blu-ray. Black levels sink their purest depths, giving the attic a dense, suffocating darkness.

To note again the color, Exorcist produces superb flesh tones alongside hefty primaries. While their digitally-made gains look as such, the vibrancy is easy to appreciate. Regan’s ghastly gray/green skin at their peak looks gorgeous.

Note parts of the actual exorcism scene (around 1:45:00) appears weirdly analog, with fuzzy edges, bleeding color, and imprecise detail. Some of this is attributable to cinematography – the haziness – while the rest is an odd anomaly in an otherwise gorgeous presentation. It’s akin to the William Friedkin-approved French Connection remaster, just not as severe.


In Atmos (and only in Atmos on the UHD), this new mix is impressive, assuming one isn’t looking for the original theatrical audio. Sound jumps from every direction, the surrounds as lively as the center, filling the early camp and marketplace scenes. It’s not a subtle update. Much of this sounds modern too, short of the aged dialog. Restoration helps both the fidelity and spaciousness. Even the heights play their role, whether an airplane panning overhead or demonic voices. Regan’s screams from her upstairs bedroom produce Atmos effects if the camera is downstairs.

Some clearly artificial, loose bass greets passing subway trains and demonic voices. Music thumps in the low-end more naturally.


Gutting their previous 40th anniversary Blu-ray release, Warner only includes two commentaries, one of them for the extended cut on the UHD, and the other for the theatrical on the Blu-ray only.

The Exorcist
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  • Extras


Iconic slow burn horror, The Exorcist masterfully unveils a descent into demonic terror, making it wholly plausible on screen.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 48 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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